Marouane Fellaini never convinced Man United fans, but had big moments

The child standing outside the turnstiles at Dublin's Aviva stadium was adamant about Marouane Fellaini: "He looks like a tree and plays like a tree. He has to go."

The view of the 10-year-old Manchester United fan, who was in the Irish capital for a preseason friendly against Sampdoria in August 2017, was shared by many other United supporters. Perhaps they will be pleased that the Belgian international is set to join Chinese club Shandong Luneng after five-and-a-half years at Old Trafford.

He could be the arch disrupter in matches, a genuine plan B when things were not going well, but is one player who has not benefitted from the resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who said Fellaini has "the X-Factor" but was also content for him to become an ex-United player.

To his detractors, Fellaini was never a United-quality player and, instead, represented a microcosm of the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era. But the £27 million fee paid to Everton in the summer of 2013 was not Fellaini's fault and nor were the circumstances that saw him arrive amid a whirl of disappointment; United had tried, but failed, to sign Toni Kroos, Ander Herrera and Cesc Fabregas.

From Fellaini's point of view, he signed a more lucrative contract to join a bigger club, at which he had the opportunity to continue playing under David Moyes, the manager who brought him to England in 2008. That decision was validated by impressive performances for Everton, even against the best teams; United players, for example, hated playing against Fellaini because he was such a handful.

A month after he sanctioned the assigning, under-fire executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward told me, in mitigation of the decision: "Fellaini is the first central midfielder we've bought in six years." But the lowlight of a poor start came when he was outclassed by Yaya Toure in a 4-1 Manchester derby defeat six weeks after arriving.

Two months later, United coach Phil Neville admitted that his ex-Everton teammate has underwhelmed but backed Fellaini to come good.

"We've not seen the best of him yet," Neville told me. "He's someone who will be a success at this football club, I'm sure of that, but he came into a team which wasn't clicking or flowing. Maybe being our only signing put pressure on him. He's now going to come back into the team that is winning and is more confident.

"He was a new signing and the team was not winning so he was probably thinking 'this is my fault,'" Neville continued. "He needs to play in a team that wins and he needs to start scoring goals. Once he does that he'll be off and running. Players need time to settle. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra needed six months; Pat got subbed in his first two games."

Neville acknowledged other issues, such as the size of United and the intensity in training, but Fellaini's form did not pick up in that first season and, while Moyes paid for the struggles with his job, the midfielder was left behind, resigned to being unpopular.

Fellaini did not fight the resentment. He should have done, because not everyone booed him ironically when he came on against Valencia in a 2014 preseason friendly, nor against West Ham in a Premier League game two years later.

Indeed, plenty beyond Moyes admired him, including Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. They felt Fellaini followed instructions to the letter and could offer something no other player could. Moreover, he was a nice person, who was professional and hard working.

Quietly spoken, in September 2016 he agreed to an interview with the United We Stand fanzine that I edit, but never got around to doing it. It was a shame; speaking openly might have helped put across his point of view across to hardcore fans, but he was not bothered.

Privately, like Mourinho, Fellaini was not overly enamoured with some of the facilities at United and claimed those at Everton were superior. Publicly, he looked to leave and was willing to move to China a year ago, but Mourinho absolutely wanted him to stay.

Fellaini's loyalty was to the managers who backed him, not the fans who did not or even the club that, he felt, stalled on an initial contract offer. As a result, United ended up paying a lot more because Mourinho saw him as a crucial player. He was at times, scoring key goals, including the one that sent United into the last 16 of this season's Champions League.

There were other fine moments during the 177 appearances he made for the club. In his second season, Fellaini came on at West Brom to score the ugliest-looking beautiful goal of all-time and was also instrumental in springtime victories over Tottenham, against whom he netted a gem of a goal, as well as Liverpool and Manchester City.

During United's run to winning the FA Cup in 2015-16, he bossed an FA Cup quarterfinal replay at West Ham and, 10 days later, scored against Everton in the semifinal. The following campaign, he was excellent in the Europa League final in Stockholm where a young Ajax side could not deal with his lofty, bustling presence.

The 31-year-old won trophies, was respected by his peers and even could boast a small cult following among fans. It might not even be wise to lighten the squad by letting him go, but will there ever be a statue of him outside Old Trafford? No chance, though it would certainly catch the eye.